Wisconsin farmers gave their lives for their country
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day and held on May 30, is a day to remember those who have died serving America.
This day of remembrance dates to 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress and would be celebrated on the last Monday in May in order to ensure a three-day weekend holiday.
History tells us that farmers were always among the first to go to war: Perhaps because they were often considered to be at the bottom of the social scale; maybe because they were not members of ruling groups: possibly because they grew up on the land and respected nature they were also patriotic.
Truman O. Olson was such a farm boy: He was born on October 13, 1917, the son of Axel and Marie Olson, in the township of Christiana near Cambridge in Dane County, attended grade school at Utica and graduated from Deerfield High school.
Olson enlisted in the army in June 1942, was sent to Europe in 1943 and by January 30 of the next year was serving in Italy.
On January 30 & 31, 1944, Sergeant Olson, a light machine gunner, elected to sacrifice his life to save his company from annihilation.
For these actions, he was awarded The Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force, which can bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.
The official citation awarded posthumously by War Department, General Orders No. 6, January 24, 1945 for actions during the World War II reads:
“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Sergeant Truman O. Olson, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on January 30 & 31, 1944, while serving with Company B, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, in action at Cisterna di Littoria, Italy. Sergeant Olson, a light machine gunner, elected to sacrifice his life to save his company from annihilation.
On the night of 30 January 1944, after a 16-hour assault on entrenched enemy positions in the course of which over one-third of Company B became casualties, the survivors dug in behind a horseshoe elevation, placing Sergeant Olson and his crew, with the one available machine gun, forward of their lines and in an exposed position to bear the brunt of the expected German counterattack.
Although he had been fighting without respite, Sergeant Olson stuck grimly to his post all night while his gun crew was cut down, one-by-one, by accurate and overwhelming enemy fire.
Weary from over 24 hours of continuous battle and suffering from an arm wound, received during the night engagement, Sergeant Olson manned his gun alone, meeting the full force of an all-out enemy assault by approximately 200 men supported by mortar and machine gun fire, which the Germans launched at daybreak on the morning of 31 January.
After 30 minutes of fighting, Sergeant Olson was mortally wounded, yet, knowing that only his weapons stood between his company and complete destruction, he refused evacuation.
For an hour and a half after receiving his second and fatal wound he continued to fire his machine gun, killing at least 20 of the enemy, wounding many more, and forcing the assaulting German elements to withdraw.
A monument to Sergeant Olson is located at the Utica Community Park and he is buried in the West Koshkonong Cemetery near by. An empty building on Park Street in Madison, the long time U.S. Army Reserve Center, also bears his name.
The Dane County farm boy is but one of many hundreds of Wisconsin farmers who gave their life for this country, who will be remembered on Memorial Day.